The structural steel market is rising as fast as a skyscraper in Shanghai. Nearly 125 million tons were produced in 2016, and the industry is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.5%. By 2025, the global structural steel market is projected to reach $140.4 billion in U.S. dollars.
But the market size of the industry isn't the only thing that is rising. Toxic fumes and dust rise from structural steel components during fabrication and construction.
A Growing Market for Structural Steel
Growth in structural steel is largely driven by growth in the building industry, especially in fast-growing economies such as China, India, Brazil and UAE. These countries are making heavy investments in public infrastructure, including bridges, hospitals, public housing projects, and government offices. They also support growing private investment in office space and high-rise housing.
In the U.S., the economy has largely recovered from the 2008 recession and the construction business is booming in many areas of the country. City centers across the heartland are being transformed with new high-rise construction, and new office parks and commercial areas are rising in once-rural areas. If the Federal government puts additional stimulus behind public infrastructure projects, the demand for structural steel could rise even faster.
Public infrastructure and commercial and residential building aren't the only drivers for structural steel demand. Structural steel is also essential for the growing energy industry, including oil & gas, renewables, and utilities. From wind turbines to oil & gas pipelines, structural steel undergirds the industries that keep our economy moving.
New Methods, New Problems for Structural Steel Fabrication
Over the last decades, changes in construction techniques have moved more and more of the fabrication process indoors, even for large building and infrastructure projects. Pre-fab housing and commercial buildings use components that are fabricated in a manufacturing facility and assembled onsite. This means that more of the welding, cutting, and grinding takes place in enclosed areas where fumes and dust can gather.
Structural steel fabrication in indoor manufacturing environment includes:
- Pre-fabrication of construction materials to be shipped to outdoor job sites
- Pre-fab building sections
- Mobile homes/trailers
- Stadium seating
- Playground equipment
- Wind turbine components
- Parts for silos, grain elevators and other agricultural structures/equipment
- Pipeline sections
- Warehouse shelving and store displays
Moving more of the construction process to indoor environments makes sense: pre-fabrication of construction materials saves time on the job site so buildings can go up faster and weather is less of a problem. But fabricating structural steel inside comes with its share of problems, too—number one being air quality.
Structural steel fabricators need to understand the OSHA regulations that apply to their part of the industry and take steps to protect workers from dangerous dust and fumes created when welding, cutting, or grinding components made out of structural steel. Taking steps to control indoor air quality will help manufacturers working with structural steel protect employee health, improve retention and recruiting of qualified workers, and remain in compliance with OSHA permissible exposure limits (PELs).